News and Integrated Release Services

 

Releasing Scientific Findings to the Public

Introduction

Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) have enjoyed the benefits of public support for their research largely due to thrilling discoveries from HST and a concerted effort by the mission to engage the public in the excitement in the wonders of the cosmos. By directly sharing their discoveries with taxpayers, the astronomical community has retained the operation of a valuable asset for science through intense public interest.

Space Science and the Public Interest

It is NASA policy that scientists supported by NASA will release newsworthy discoveries to the public through NASA channels. The HST Call for Proposals, "Publication of HST Results," specifically states that in addition to the scientific publication of results, HST observers have "a responsibility to share interesting results of their HST investigations with the public at large."

STScI’s News branch in the Office of Public Outreach (OPO) is chartered to support NASA in disseminating HST science and technology information to the general public.  In this capacity, OPO offers scientists expert assistance in preparing news releases and the opportunity to share their newsworthy results with hundreds of millions of people.

NASA has the "first right of refusal" for all Hubble news releases, and OPO acts as the science team’s advocate in bringing new results to the NASA news machine. NASA's policy is to distribute all news fairly and equitably to all media. This policy prohibits "exclusive" news stories, which greatly diminish the impact potential of scientific findings and limit widespread access to them. OPO works with the scientists’ home institutions to ensure that news items are disseminated nationally as well as locally.

Is My Result Newsworthy?

Scientific findings can capture the public’s attention for a variety of reasons.   As a general guideline, scientific findings are newsworthy if they:

  1. Represent a major discovery of a new phenomenon or class of object.
  2. Decisively settle an area of controversy in astronomy.
  3. Present a new mystery or unexpected new complexity to some known phenomenon.
  4. Represent a significant step forward in a specific research area.
  5. Set a new astronomical record or benchmark, or possess an element of novelty.
  6. Deal with unpredicted, transient events.
  7. Provide new insight into one of the following popular astronomical topics: cosmology, extrasolar planets, planetary disks, astrobiology, black holes, solar system objects, distant galaxies, exotic astrophysics, and Earth's evolution.

Publicizing Your Result

If you have a result that you believe to be of public interest, please contact our News Chief, Ray Villard at 410-338-4514 (villard@stsci.edu) or use the linked form. The news team, which includes the News Chief, technical writers, graphic artists, web developers, and scientists, will make a preliminary assessment of the newsworthiness of your result using the criteria described above. The next step would be to set up a teleconference with you to discuss the research findings to the news team.

It typically takes 4-6 weeks to prepare a news release, accompanying graphics, and video, if available, and have the entire package go through the formal NASA approval process. Therefore, it is important that the news office be contacted well in advance of a publication or conference deadline. If you have a major discovery, it is advisable to refrain from posting on Astro-Ph until a news release is issued. Science journalists routinely scan Astro-Ph for stories, and such a “scoop” may preempt wider coverage of your story.

Once a result has been accepted for a news release, it is critical that you be available to participate in any revisions of the draft news release (and any supporting products). As the principal investigator, you are singular point of contact for your team and you must work collectively with your team to ensure scientific accuracy and timely reviews of materials.

As the release reaches maturity it is reviewed by the HST Project Scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Headquarters, and any consulting scientists at STScI. The NASA newsroom may choose to issue a simplified version of the release, but the “full story” as written and approved at STScI with the P.I. will be posted on the STScI News Center site (through HubbleSite.org) and distributed to news media.

The press release date often coincides with acceptance of the research for publication in a journal or an announcement at a conference. News releases tied to the publications Nature and Science, which require strict news embargo times, will be coordinated by the STScI News office. We will also coordinate with the press office of your host university.

Though a refereed publication is a prerequisite for a news release, two exceptions are (1) a solar system discovery that is to be announced via an IAU circular, and (2) a presentation at a science conference such as the AAS as “work in progress.” 

In some instances OPO may approach and encourage the science team to participate in various social media opportunities, such as “Hubble Hangouts” and other events.  The logistics for these social media events are arranged by OPO.

     

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